Gibbs returns to 'Skins

Hall of Fame coach, 63, is rehired by Washington after an 11-year absence

`The guy has a Midas touch'

January 08, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder first tried the proven old pro with a track record for rehabilitating teams, and Marty Schottenheimer lasted one tumultuous 8-8 season.

Snyder then tried the can't-miss college hotshot, and Steve Spurrier lasted two uninspired, but expensive, seasons.

Yesterday, twice burned, Snyder reached out to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and all the way back to the Redskins' family tree to get his next coach.

In Joe Gibbs, the Redskins' family feels like Snyder finally got it right.

On the third head-coaching hire of his six-year stewardship, Snyder went back to the future to pick the man who made the Redskins one of the NFL's most respected teams in the 1980s.

After an 11-year absence, during which he built a second sporting career, Gibbs, 63, is returning to the Redskins as head coach and team president. He will be introduced today at a news conference at the team's Ashburn, Va., training facility, complete with a five-year, $25 million contract.

It was a move applauded vigorously by Redskins alumni and opponents at the same time.

"It's the only move that can save the franchise," said former offensive tackle Mark May, characterizing it as the "most ineptly run franchise" in the league.

From Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who waged some epic battles against Gibbs' Redskins when he worked for the New York Giants, came this endorsement:

"I said when he retired that Joe was the best coach I'd ever faced. I have great respect for his ability. I don't think the time that he has spent away from the game will have any effect at all."

Gibbs will attempt to bridge football eras with a comeback that no one saw coming. As a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons the past two years, Gibbs approached that team several weeks ago about its vacant coaching position. When the Redskins' job opened, though, his focus shifted north.

A statement released yesterday by the Falcons read: "When the opportunity at the Redskins came up, Joe told us he couldn't turn his back on the history, fans, loyalties and relationships built up over time in Washington. While we understand his feelings, we are disappointed that he didn't continue his talks with us."

With a work ethic that eventually consumed him, Gibbs took the Redskins to the playoffs in eight of his 12 seasons and to the Super Bowl four times. He won three of those Super Bowls - with three different quarterbacks - in a 10-year period.

He abruptly retired after the 1992 season and went into the Hall of Fame in 1996 with 140 career wins and the third-best winning percentage (.683) in league history.

"I think Joe Gibbs is one of the four or five greatest coaches that I have observed during the 33 years I have been in the league," said Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi.

Gibbs operated in the pre-salary cap, pre-free agent era when teams were able to maintain continuity in personnel. Dealing with cap dollars and free-agent losses will be a new challenge.

"He had the luxury of a veteran team trying to make as much money as we could because we didn't have guaranteed contracts, didn't have the ability to move to another team," said Joe Washington, a former Redskins running back. "There is a difference there. Society has given us a different type athlete."

But, Washington added, "there are only so many plays you can run. As far as keeping up with the game from a tactical standpoint, there's no problem there."

In retirement, Gibbs launched his own NASCAR team, won the Daytona 500 in his second year and two Winston Cup crowns with two different drivers.

"The guy has a Midas touch," said May, who was the first draft choice of the Gibbs era in 1981. "He had a different challenge in NASCAR and went out and beat that. This is another great challenge. If he beats this one, he's Houdini. But I think he will win nine games his first year and go to the playoffs."

In the aftermath of Gibbs' departure, the Redskins fell on hard times. They've had one playoff season in 11 years since he left. And since Snyder bought the team in 1999, he has presided over four coaches in five years. He inherited Norv Turner, gave Terry Robiskie three games in 2000, and then hired Schottenheimer and Spurrier in 2001 and 2002.

There is no small concern in the Redskins' community that the same fate that befell his predecessors will afflict Gibbs.

"We go through this every year where people get excited over the heroics Dan Snyder is able to pull off in the offseason," said Rick "Doc" Walker, a former Redskins tight end and now a radio personality in Washington. "Unfortunately, it never translates into winning. This is the first time it will."

Walker believes the problem was that neither Schottenheimer nor Spurrier had total control over the players. Certain players, he said, had a pipeline to management that circumvented Spurrier's control.

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